What to Do with a Day in Taipei

My friends abandoned me in a foreign city, and now I must figure out what to do.

Just kidding.

I knew they were staying in Taizhong to visit some old friends, so I took the early train up to Taipei, stashed my luggage in a train station locker (so convenient – LOVE), and ventured out to find a bus that would take me to the National Palace Museum.

Finding the bus was easy. Almost every bus from that Metro stop went to the National Palace. The challenge was to find out how much the bus would cost and how many stops away it was. Using my super-human ability to look like a helpless tourist with no Chinese skills, I appealed to anyone under the age of 30 on the bus to help me. One girl in particular was quite nice and told me the cost and how many stops away it would be. So sweet.

It started to drizzle. A warm drizzle rain that makes it feel like the sky gods are just out for laughs. I dashed up the stairs to the very beautiful, very impressive National Palace Museum, eager to be out of the rain. Dodging a huge tour bus of Chinese folks, I got my ticket and had to check in my backpack and water bottle before entering. I went to put my water bottle in my backpack – the lady manning the desk was very kind – and didn’t realize the lid was not on properly until I tipped it halfway to get it into the holder and it spilled everywhere. The nice lady got the look of Grumpy Cat on her face and shooed me away.

Yep, I hightailed out of there even after offering to help clean up. Somehow, my butterfingery-ness didn’t translate well. What can I say, right?

The museum itself is amazing. I enjoyed the Jade hall, the European snuff box exhibit (interesting collection and history of European influence in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong!), and the hall of old writings. While it was super-busy with tour groups, I wove like an eel between them to see what was on display. That required a good bit of dexterity with large groups, but after living in China for three years, one acquires that ability to find loopholes in huge crowds and slip through them.

After about two hours in the museum, I decided to head back to the Metro stop from whence I’d come and find another interesting museum – a museum of cake. No kidding. Cake, or something like that. I found it easily, but the problem became that you had to prearrange tours. To see the history of Taiwanese cake. I’d missed the last tour by a half hour. Sadness ensued.

Outside the cake museum, I sat on a stone and checked for WiFi. None existed there, but I looked up, only to find myself surrounded by paparazzi. I mean, Chinese tourists, but I feel like it’s a perpetual paparazzi. You don’t have to be Kate Middleton if you live in China (or are a foreign tourist) – you can just be your normal self. They were all taking pictures of me whilst I was on my mobile phone. Now I know what the pandas in Chengdu feel like. Or zebras.  To say that I put on my sunglasses and made kissy-faces at the lenses was not an exaggeration. I felt like I could at least make the impromptu photo session fun.

From this debacle, I waved good-bye to my adoring photographers and headed into the local neighborhood, which just happened to have a magnificent temple in the centre of it. I explored that for a bit before finding the main street again.

As I walked, I came upon a pretty garden. I was intrigued. I wandered in, only to discover that I was going into the Chiang Kaishek house and gardens. They had his official state car and everything. The house was closed to visitors since it was getting quite late, but I could at least stroll the gardens and get bitten alive by mosquitos. The gardens were beautiful, especially the roses and the pagodas.

When I left the gardens, I was completely disoriented. I had no idea where I’d come in from and where I’d ended up. Special. So, I began to walk toward the elevated Metro tracks, following them down. I figured that I would eventually run into a stop where I could hop on. That would be great, however, if the stops were actually closer to each other. At one point, I stopped at a cafe just for coffee and macaroons before setting off again.

Finally, I reached the Metro stop and was able to hop on for one stop. My final destination for the day was to be the Shilin Night Market, Taipei’s biggest and most well-known market. I was bloody massive. In interest of not getting lost again, I stuck to a few simple alleys, picking up small bites here and there. I’d done a good deal of shopping the night before in Taizhong’s night market – even finding several pairs of shoes in my size, squeee! – and I was really tired.

I picked my way through the city to the train station to get my bag and then I returned to our hostel. I popped in for a bit there before venturing across the street to the small night market there. I needed to have mango ice one more time before leaving Taiwan!


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